On November 4, 2008, America overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama United States president. But more importantly, especially during two ongoing wars, they elected him commander-in-chief. As a former U.S. Marine who served during the 1990s, I got very used to seeing pictures of President William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton in most military offices. I know the value of the military chain of command—and it begins with President Barack Obama at the top.
When the Rolling Stone article publicized the chief commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, and his teams’ disrespect for America’s civilian leadership, he left his boss, Obama, no choice but to relieve him of duty. General McChrystal quickly issued a statement of apology, but it was not enough.
Commentators and pundits from the left-leaning MSNBC network to the Republican propaganda megaphone, Fox News, have questioned President Obama’s “toughness” even before his presidential campaign bid began, right up through this latest controversy. But his firing of McChrystal should help put that animal to rest. By firing McChrystal, the president showed leadership—and reminded those who serve on his behalf, both in civilian and military capacities alike, who the leader is.
Upon relieving McChrystal of his duty, President Obama replaced him with someone with an actual record of success—General David Petraeus. Petraeus, who currently leads the U.S. Central Command Force and led the successful surge in Iraq, will take control of the international force in Afghanistan, which totals nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and about 40,000 from other countries.
Given he was a darling of the right wing during President George W. Bush’s reign, I suspect he will eventually be confirmed by the Senate. However, it seems most Republican senators’ DNA won’t allow them to confirm anything this president requests, unless of course they can get a $40 million military complex built in their state.
The Afghanistan effort has not went well lately. In fact, according to the Web site www.icasualties.com, casualties and deaths are set for a record-high pace for 2010. And this week, we also learned that billions of U.S. dollars have actually been funneled to the very Taliban fighters killing U.S. and allied soldiers.
Hopefully, General Petraeus can improve the conditions left by General McChrystal. However, that’s a tall order considering the geographical and infrastructural challenges; and cultural differences in Afghanistan, but that’s an argument for another column.
It should be noted this isn’t nearly the first time a commander-in-chief has fired a highly popular general. The beloved WWII commander of the Pacific Theater and Medal of Honor recipient General Douglas MacArthur was fired by President Harry Truman for insubordination during the Korean War. And President Lincoln relieved several generals of duty before finally finding Ulysses S. Grant to lead the Union Army to victory.
Our country’s system is such that we the people hire the military’s top boss. Actually, a case can be made that isn’t so until we truly turn to publicly financed campaigns. Be that as it may, in our system insubordination cannot be tolerated. In the military it can get people killed. In a democracy it can lead to dictatorships. President Obama deserves credit for his leadership and decision.